Lyft, the ride-hailing company that is the chief competitor to Uber, can return to Kansas City in 10 days under new, relaxed regulations the Kansas City Council approved Thursday.
The council voted 9–2 to adjust its vehicle-for-hire rules to comply with a new state law that was looser than existing Kansas City regulations. But the council agreed to adopt the state rules as of July 23, a full month before the state law takes effect.
In an emailed statement, the company said after Thursday’s council vote that it was looking forward to serving Kansas City again.
“We applaud the City Council for allowing Lyft to bring its safe, reliable and affordable transportation options to Kansas City,” Lyft said.
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The a San Francisco-based company said the new local measure, which takes effect 10 days after Thursday’s adoption, “will expand transportation options and create economic opportunity for individuals, families, and businesses. We look forward to launching operations as soon as possible.”
Lyft already operates in Kansas City, Kan., Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan and Wichita.
An Uber spokeswoman declined comment about Lyft coming to Kansas City.
Kansas City Mayor Sly James and Councilman Dan Fowler were the two dissenters. James said he didn’t like having the state of Missouri preempt city law, and certainly didn’t want to adjust the city’s rules before the state law even becomes official.
“I just don’t like giving the state any edge whatsoever,” he said.
Fowler said the new rules, which allow the companies to do their own driver background checks rather than requiring city background checks, are like the “fox guarding the hen house.”
Fowler said Kansas City’s regulated industries inspectors have caught drivers in the past with problems that vehicle-for-hire companies hadn’t identified. He said Kansas City will have to live with the new state rules, but he didn’t want to go that route a month early.
Supporters of the new rules said removing roadblocks for ride-sharing companies is the wave of the future, is happening all over the country, and will open up more job opportunities for drivers and more transportation alternatives for people who don’t have cars or want to drive less.
“People want to use the service,” Councilman Quinton Lucas said.
Councilman Jermaine Reed agreed.
“The ordinance will allow the city to implement ride-sharing options that would benefit residents and visitors to Kansas City and provide more options during the height of tourist season to our city,” Reed said.
He predicted it could create jobs for 200 drivers, although some of those may already be driving for Uber.
Jim Robertson, a Kansas City resident who has driven for Lyft for a few months on the Kansas side of the state line, said the service has been somewhat limited because it could not cross over into Missouri. Now that will change.
“To me, it broadens the scope of choice that the riders will have,” Robertson said. “I look forward to increasing ridership on the Missouri side.”
Both Uber and Lyft showed up in Kansas City in summer 2014 just as the city was trying to adapt its regulations to deal with this newfangled transportation option, in which passengers summon a driver through a cell phone app.
Both companies engaged in fierce negotiations with the city to try to change existing taxi regulations. Lyft wound up in a lawsuit with the city over its proposed regulations and halted operations in October 2014, while Uber kept operating as the city regulations remained in limbo.
When the city council adopted new rules in 2015, Lyft announced it would not resume operating in Kansas City. It argued Kansas City’s local fees, paperwork requirements and background checks were too burdensome. Meanwhile, Uber agreed to work with Kansas City’s rules.
But Uber and Lyft also started lobbying for relaxed rules in Missouri. It took several sessions, but this year, the Missouri General Assembly approved legislation, which Gov. Eric Greitens signed.
The state law requires app-based companies wishing to do business in Missouri to pay a $5,000 licensing fee and conduct their own driver background checks and vehicle inspections. It lays out who can be a driver, based on driving record, and exempts the companies from paying local taxes.
Mark Davis contributed to this article.